In 2001, a most unexpected ethno-religious riot broke out in the hitherto serene and peaceful city of Jos. Within days, about 7,000 lives had been wasted while over 50,000 civilians were left displaced and several properties billions of naira destroyed. Davou Thoma Gyang, then a ten-year-old survivor, who has now made good for himself, with a first-class degree in Mechanical Engineering, takes a retrospective look at those trouble days with Adeola Ogunlade.
The 2001 Jos, Plateau State riots remains a deep blemish in the history of the cold rocky town of Northern Nigeria. It was a nightmare for many, especially children, who but for the scars, would love to forget the horror and sorrow it left behind. As a result, a good number of them did lose track of their goals in life, having been orphaned and left destitute; but not so for 26-year-old Davou Thoma Gyang.
Gyang, an indigene of Jere Local Government, Jos South, who lost his father in the violence did become disillusioned, but providence came to his rescue. Today, he is a proud first class graduate of Mechanical Engineering, from Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ogun State, and looks set for the adventures of life, though this time, towards the positive sides.
I was born in Nyango-Tah, Gyel in Jos, the Plateau State capital. My childhood memories and experiences are still fresh; living in the village at that time exposed me to the beautiful gifts of nature. I also had lots of friends with whom we jaunted and had beautiful times. We enjoyed the moon light tales, local games; hanging around and attending a public primary school together. …Life was beautiful, until when death raised its ugly head and claimed the life of my father. I was just 10 and this tragedy turned the table of my life around and dislodged me from my home.
On that fateful Saturday morning in September 2001, my father had bought yam, with which porridge breakfast, which we all ate was prepared. Thereafter, he departed for work, leaving me and my friends to watch TV in a neighbour’s house. At about 10 am, someone rushed into the room to alert us of the mayhem that had erupted outside. We rushed out and lo, we saw people running with trepidation. I was taken aback, because scene was rare in our locality at the time. It was later that I learnt that a religious riot had erupted in the town where my father went to work.
My father married many wives, and at the breakout of the violence, everyone of them ran out with their children, seeking safety in different directions. We saw thick smoke rising into the sky from different spots, an evidence that houses, vehicles and other properties were being burnt, so we sought refuge in the mountains. In the afternoon, we heard many people crying that someone from our community had been killed.
It was later that I learnt that the victim from our village was my father and how he had been brutally butchered. At first, it sounded like some dreadful tale I couldn’t imagine happening to my father, until his body was wheeled to the house in a wheelbarrow, and buried that evening.
The incident left me speechless. My father died because of his faith in Christ, but his death left the family without a bread winner. As a result, survival became really tough in the family and my mother and my siblings had to strive hard to keep the family. This made me develop hatred for the religious extremists, until I encountered the teachings of the Bible in Matt 5:44 that says “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” This extinguished the hatred in my heart and accepted the episode as the Lord’s doing.
I was in primary three in our community public primary school at the time but later moved to Roman Catholic Mission (CRM) in Barkin Ladi, a neighbouring community, where I continued up to primary six.
Life after the incident…
Dad was a proud farmer. He brought farm produces for everyone and we were comfortable. He was also into estate and was a developer. So, we really missed him.
One evening in 2004, my uncle came to our house and informed my mother about an organisation, the Voice of the Christian Martyrs, VCM, which helped and supported persecuted Christians and provided free education to sons and daughters of the martyrs. He begged my mother to allow him take me to VCM office, so I could go with them the next day to Abeokuta to continue my studies in their school. She assented and that was how my journey to academic excellence began.
I was given a scholarship, but leaving my friends, relatives and family behind was not easy.
My first day experience in the school was quite alarming. At the assembly, many pupils were called out to be sent home for not paying their school fee. This was contrary to all the privileges of free education I had expected, but I was later made to realise that those were children in the community, who had to pay stipends, which the organisation used in supporting the needs of the Nigeria special children (now Stephen’s Children).
I felt privileged and decided that if I could be shown such a favour, I must make the best use of the opportunity, study hard and achieve the best possible out of life.
Before leaving Jos, my uncle had advised me to start from the last class in the primary school, even though he was aware I had completed primary six at RCM. I was not happy with this, but in order not to disobey him, I complied. I later realised that it pays to be obedient because it helped me build a solid foundation for myself. That year, I performed so well that I was made the head boy. In 2005, I started my secondary education at the Stephen Centre International College also in Abeokuta.
I settled in quickly in secondary school; I also posted superlative performances and featured prominently in school activities. This culminated in my representing the school in external competitions and in SS3, I was made the senior prefect.”
Student leadership came with its challenges, trial and tribulations for Gyang, but he survived them. He recalled that the challenges helped to build and prepare a solid foundation for his future. He was able to pass both his internal and external examinations and in July 2011, he graduated from the Stephen Centre International College (SCIC) in flying colours.
He also recalled that his colleagues and mentors even had confidence in him than he had in himself, to the extent that they gave him responsibilities he never believed he could handle.
“That really built my confidence,” he said.
My University days
“In 2011,” Gyang said, “a new chapter of my life began. I wrote my post UTME in Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU) and I was admitted to study Mechanical Engineering. I was so excited because it was the area of my interest. With the help of VCM, which assisted me with funds to pay my fees, I was able to commence my studies in the higher institution the following year. At first, I wasn’t familiar with the environment because there was no one to give me directions as usual, so I started applying the things I had learnt at the Stephen Children Home. I continued with that same spirit of determination and God crowned my effort with success. I graduated from OOU in 2016 and I’m currently serving in Kebbi State.”
Gyang revealed that his penchant for creativity and innovation ensnared him to choose mechanical engineering.
“The road to my first class was full of contours, but these contours made me stronger. If a person is not faced with challenges, he/she will think that everything is easy. I started my 100 level with more than eighty colleagues in my department but graduated with just about fifty of them. This is to tell you how rough the road was. I was able to scale through because of God’s divine providence and because my sponsors (Voice of the Christian Martyrs), lecturers and my friends gave me the road map. I had to defy the odds by weighing my past against the opportunity ahead of me. I understood that there were many people who would give anything to be in my shoes. I therefore redoubled my determination and commitment to my studies and endeavours.
My major challenge in my university days was the stress involved in coping with the different activities within limited time. The scarcity of electricity was another challenge. And most of my lecture activities in school were time-based – 8:00am to 5:00pm; while in the evening I attended weekly religious services. I read mostly in the night or early in the morning after my devotion, and in school when I’m less busy. Of course there were days I altered my activities to accommodate other impromptu activities.